“Was I rude there?”
I didn’t know what to expect when I sat down to speak with Anna Torv. Would she be cool and serious, like Olivia? Or bold and cavalier like Fauxlivia? For all I knew, the actress’ personality could have been closer to Olivia possessed by William Bell. I didn’t expect her to be so chipper and enthusiastic. And overly concerned about our waitress.
We met in the restaurant of her hotel on a Wednesday afternoon. Torv and costar John Noble (Walter Bishop) were in Los Angeles for a pair of award shows. Monday, they walked the red carpet of the Critics Choice awards, where Torv was a nominee for best actress in a television series and Noble took the award for best supporting actor. “The fact that John won is still kind of thrilling,” Torv said. “He’s so damn brave. And just the joy he puts into it.”
Then Thursday they were off to the Saturn Awards, where Torv repeated her win last year for the top female actor award. Deservedly so.
In Season 3, Torv truly shone. Which is saying a lot in a show where she plays opposite powerhouses like John Noble, Lance Reddick and Blair Brown on a weekly basis. Not to mention the guest stars they bring in: Christopher Lloyd, Peter Weller, Leonard Nimoy. Still, Torv really made this year her own, playing two uniquely different versions of the same character, dealing with heartbreak and deception from both sides of the story. It’s a big change from Season 1, when many criticized Torv and her character Olivia Dunham of being cold and distant.
“That was clearly a conscious choice on the part of the writers and on my part,” Torv explained. “I’ve been playing her so long, I get defensive of her. People forget the first time we met her, she was glowing. She was giggly and glowing and happy, and life was sweet.”
An excellent point that I myself had forgotten. We were first introduced to Olivia Dunham three years ago when she was in bed with her FBI partner/lover John Scott, but he was pulled away by her first case involving fringe science. By the end, not only is Scott killed, but Olivia finds out that he’s been a double agent the entire time. “She was dead for a long time. I don’t think she’s still right yet. Poor Liv.”
Olivia became the emotional punching bag of the first season. “I honestly had been giggling and teasing them. I wanted Olivia to lighten up, but every time she did, something would happen.”
The writers gave glimpses into the life of Olivia Dunham. “They wrote this scene, and it was at the beginning of the episode. It didn’t have anything to do with the story. She’s putting her dress on, putting her shoe on, she’s on the phone saying, ‘Yeah, I’ll meet you in a sec.’ Then the phone rings. It’s Broyles, and she wipes the lipstick off, puts on a coat, and goes out. That’s it. You’re on call. She breaks my heart.”
Then in Season 2, the parallel universe, or “other side” of the “Fringe” universe, came to the forefront of the story. We got hints of the alternate versions of the characters we’d grown to love, and by Season 3, they had their own episodes. “There’s a tendency to throw an idea out there and tease at it,” Torv told me. “Then no one’s going to commit because no one thinks it’s going to last. So who cares? But they [the writers] went hardcore into it. Every second episode for the first 10 episodes of the third season we’re over there.”
“I love my job, but you do it every day, so the fact that you get to jump back and forth between these two different perspectives…. From the other side. Or the perspective of what you do like when you don’t get to see it for a week.”
Torv’s eyes light up as she discusses the joy of fleshing out the Fauxlivia character in season three. “When they finally gave me this character, I was so hands-on. ‘Let’s do this properly. Let’s give her a swagger. Let’s give her long red hair. Let’s make her kinda sexy and cooler.’ And they let me.”
“I wanted to have a full-on uniform. But they kind of had their own uniform. The take on it was they were the heroes of their side. Like firemen. Fighter pilots. A cool job. Not just suits.”
“It was such a relief, too. Because everything had been so pent-up. On our side, Olivia is completely responsible for this criminal and a madman. It’s on her head. I always used to tease the writers to give me a scene where Olivia opens a drawer and she’s been keeping notes of every single thing they’ve done. On the other side, Lincoln was in charge, so Fauxlivia didn’t have the responsibility that our Olivia had.”
Plus, Fauxlivia got to be a lot more rough and tumble. “I like the action scenes with Fauxlivia because she gets hit. I love it. The fight stuff is fun. It’s like a dance.”
“I mean, I don’t do any of the stuff that’s dangerous,” Torv clarified. “It actually led to one of the most humbling experiences in my life: the first episode in the second season when Olivia’s vanished and suddenly she comes flying through the windshield. So Melissa Stubbs is the fantastic stuntwoman who did that. They put a rocket for her in the back of the car, and they had that breakaway glass for the windshield. She has nothing on extra, except maybe elbow pads. Then they shoot her out of this rocket, through the windshield, and she rolls on the ground and lands on her mark. The guy goes in. She’s OK. Everybody claps. Then I have to go in, lay in the same position, so they can get a close-up of my eyes opening. That was kind of humbling. “
Not only did Torv get to play a parallel-universe version of Olivia, she got to play Olivia possessed by the spirit of William Bell. I asked if that was something the show runners told her they were contemplating before they gave her the script. “No, you just get it. And you go, ‘What? I don’t know where to start.’ I was very scared. Also because I love Leonard, and I don’t want to offend or mock him. I called John, first off. We had a couple cups of coffee and talked about it. I wanted to talk to him because he worked with Leonard, and I just needed a friend. And a friend on set when I went in. To look at and it wouldn’t be so weird.”
“We have a dialect coach who sits on set, listening to us and our accents, and she was fantastic. The sound guys put together a whole bunch of Bell’s dialogue, and I just listened to it.” Even with all that work, though, Torv was still a little nervous about her performance. “I haven’t watched that episode yet. I was really nervous during it, and I just need to put some distance before I go back to it.”
The cast doesn’t get much exposure to how the show is being received while they’re filming. Many times it’s not until they’re at events like Comic-Con when they see fans’ reactions. “We shoot in Vancouver, and we live in this isolated bubble. So it’s, ‘Oh, wow, people watch it and care.’ They pick up things we popped in there. That side’s fantastic. They’re active participants.”
“Fringe” does give its audience a lot of tiny details to obsess over, the favorite being the Observer. “I love the Observer. I love every episode that they’re in. Michael Cerveris did such a wonderful job with that character. I love them. They’re my favorite part, actually.”
“The show has a very loyal following. The people who watch the show care. I love doing the panels. I love the audience questions.” Torv grinned, talking about what “Fringe” puts its fans through. “All of a sudden we put a cartoon is the middle of the season. Or a film noir. A musical episode. And whether they like it or they don’t, they forgive us, which is the lovely part.”
But how will fans feel coming into Season 4? The Season 3 finale ended with a doorway open between the two universes and Peter seemingly erased from existence.
“It’s a massive reset,” Torv admitted. “Every first episode of a season has been crafted like another pilot. An introduction to what this is going to be.”
“I’m excited because I think it means the relationships will be completely different. You’ll get to play with people as your character, essentially having a different relationship. Especially with Walter because Peter has always been there,” Torv speculated. “And there’s going to be more of a back-and-forth between worlds, which I think is going to be a lot of fun.”
“I’d like to play with Olivia. Unbutton the coat. Find the middle ground between Olivia and Fauxlivia,” Torv said. “I was so excited when we got picked up for Season 4. I had so much fun last year. And you can keep resetting. Nothing is set in stone. With science fiction there’s endless possibilities.”
For Anna Torv, the wait isn’t much longer. In less than a month, she’ll be back in Vancouver, preparing to start production on Season 4. The rest of us are going to have to wait until the fall to see what happens to the Fringe Division.
Fringe is continuing its success with critics: last night the show had three wins at the Saturn Awards for Best Network TV Series, Best Actress on TV (Anna Torv) and Best Supporting Actor on TV (John Noble).
Fringe beat out Lost, V, Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries and Smallville for Best Network TV Series.
Anna Torv (Olivia), John Noble (Walter), Lance Reddick (Broyles – who was also nominated in the Best Supporting Actor on TV category) and exec producers Jeff Pinkner and Joel Wyman were all present at the event to accept the awards.
Jeff Pinkner and Joel Wyman are more than just co-showrunners of the Fox science fiction hour Fringe. They’re also the gatekeepers of its genre-expanding premise that’s been described as a hybrid of The X-Files, Altered States, and The Twilight Zone. Despite being a critical darling through much of its first 3 seasons, however, the series has come up short with the TV Academy, generating only Emmy nominations in 2009 for special effects and 2010 for sound editing. Its stars Anna Torv, Josh Jackson and John Noble remain otherwise unrecognized from Emmy (though Noble just this week won a Critics’ Choice Television Award). Pinkner and Wyman spoke with Deadline TV Contributor Ray Richmond about the show’s distinct sensibility and its third season:
DEADLINE: How was the decision made to introduce to Fringe the premise of having the action alternate between parallel universes this past season?
JEFF PINKNER: One of the things we’d said to our studio and network partners from the beginning is, this is very much a series that has to move forward and keep changing in order to be successful. It’s an unfolding story as opposed to a condition. It isn’t about a hospital where bodies come through or a police precinct with suspects. We knew early on that the series and saga involved two universes. But it was important
to let it unfold relatively slowly, to have it open up to characters and viewers over time as opposed to the middle of season one. Because we knew it was a pretty heady concept.
JOEL WYMAN: In Jurassic Park, by the time you see the dinosaurs, you already were introduced to the idea of a fly stuck in amber. The table is set long before to you get to that place of wonder, so when you finally reach it you’ve accepted it as being real. We felt that was important to establish for Fringe as well, to first set up the desires and intentions of the characters and let the wonder of this world unfold in front of them before going full-on to that alternate universe.
DEADLINE: It’s always a big risk to change up your creative game when you’re already an established show. You were asking the audience to in essence accept utterly different personas for the same character.
WYMAN: We’re thrilled with how our fans have responded to it. But we were careful at the same time not to abandon any of our main characters. At the same time, we thought that if we were going to ask people to invest in these doppelganger characters, we’d best do it full-out as well, so viewers got to know them and spent enough time understanding their dilemmas.
DEADLINE: But your ratings numbers did slip from Season 2 to Season 3, going from a 2.8 with adults 18-49 to a 2.2. Of course, Fox also moved from Thursday to Friday nights midway through the season, which may have had something to do with it.
PINKNER: The numbers were of course a concern. The network and studio need to make money in order to keep us on the air. We get that. At the same time, we’ve never tried to design stories just to appeal to a larger audience. And the kind of storytelling we’re doing isn’t going to appeal to everyone no matter what we do?
DEADLINE: What kind of storytelling is that?
PINKNER: Well, basically humanistic science fiction. What we’ve discovered is, not everyone likes licorice but the ones who do really, really like it. That’s how our fans are, too. They followed us from Thursday to Friday night without a lot of drop-off, both live and on DVR.
WYMAN: But we understand we’re fighting very hard against the science fiction moniker. There’s a group of people who just say, ‘We’re not interested in that.’ We’re trying to work in metaphors and deliver a little bit of a movie each week, as well as finding deeper thematic elements than network TV normally tries to tackle.
DEADLINE: But was there any point during the past season when you had legitimate reason to worry that Fox might not renew?
PINKNER: You know, maybe out of naïvete, we weren’t that concerned that this would be the end of the journey for us. We did have an ending in place just in case. But we’re very fortunate to have legitimate fans at the network and the studio who are really upfront with us. They knew the story we were telling this past season and celebrated how bold we were trying to be on network television.
DEADLINE: How much does it bother you to always see the cable dramas getting awards hype while most network series don’t?
WYMAN: The truth is that we watch those shows, too. We find the work that’s going on in cable to be astounding. If the acclaim and promotion they’re getting makes us feel anything, it’s motivation to maybe pave some new ground for network television. And it’s tough to pull off. Network TV, in a lot of ways, doesn’t have the ability to tell the same kind of story as they do on cable. You’re fighting to draw in an audience whose life is often too busy to schedule any appoint TV. We’re just hoping that people say, ‘Hey, Fringe is doing something different and going deeper than network TV usually tries to go.’
PINKNER: If there’s any frustration at all, it’s that there’s clearly a different expectation when you try to tell a story over 22 episodes than when you’re doing 10, 11 or 13 episodes.
DEADLINE: And, again, there’s the whole stigma of the science fiction label that you consistently need to overcome.
WYMAN: And the frustration is that we feel like we’re so much more than science fiction. We’re doing things through the eye of Fringe that are altogether new. Rarely do you get to tell a story about a three-way love triangle where two of the three people are the same person, as we did this past season.
DEADLINE: In terms of next season, will you be keeping the parallel universes conceit going? And what’s going to become of Josh Jackson’s character Peter?
PINKNER: Well, Peter no longer exists. All we’ll say is that in Season 4, we’ll very much see the consequences of what happened in Seasons 1, 2 and 3. What happens to Peter remains a very big question. But a new chapter will unfold next season. As it does every year on this show.
Anna will attend the Fringe panel at this years Comic-Con.
SATURDAY, JULY 23
Fringe(Fox): Panelists include Anna Torv, Lance Reddick, Blair Brown, Jasika Nicole, John Noble, Jeff Pinker and J.H. Wyman.
As FBI agent Olivia Dunham, Fringe’s Anna Torv this past season loved and lost a man, endured a difficult pregnancy, and cheated death all but one time. Complementing the spectacular conceits of dual universes, duplicate selves, accelerated gestation periods and time-jumps, the drama quotient remained high as well, with this formidable female often feeling – literally — the weight of our world on her shoulders. Perhaps it’s time for Emmy voters to see past the Fox series’ fantasy elements and give props to the Aussie actress who delivers the fantastic week after week.
TVLINE | This season, you played Olivia, “Bolivia,” Bolivia-as-Olivia, and Olivia as… Leonard Nimoy. How did that work out for you?
This season was my favorite so far. You do a show, and there are things you do every episode – like, we always have a crime scene – so to all of a sudden throw it in the air and be given the chance to play a whole lot of different stuff is fun.
TVLINE | Could you have imagined three years ago you’d be juggling all this?
I didn’t know what to imagine even after we finished the pilot. But this [third] season exceeded my expectations, and I think everybody had a ball, actually. Season 1, [which was filmed] in New York, was awesome, and Season 2 we were feeling things out in a new town [Vancouver] with a completely different crew. So this past year essentially [felt like only] the second season – and everybody says that’s the best one, because you’re relaxed.
TVLINE | Are you worried about what the writers might throw at you next?
I don’t know what they’re thinking, especially with the way we ended this season.
TVLINE | I have to imagine you’ll now be playing Olivia and Bolivia concurrently in the same space…
I’m thinking so, which will be tough on the hair department but fun for me. [Laughs] The only scene they had together was at the end of Season 2, when they had to fight in the apartment. I don’t know how much of that they’re going to do because that took a damn long time to shoot.
TVLINE | How do you go about making Bolivia not simply “the evil twin”?
I didn’t know where [the writers] were going to go with her, so I tended to just play it scene-for-scene or episode-for-episode. There were a couple where I thought, “Oh, she kind of is going bad,” but then you get to see her in other situations and she becomes a person. Going back to the other side and getting to play a bunch of stuff where she’s in her own world I think did great things for the character, because then you went, “She’s just fighting for her cause.”
TVLINE | Talk about how you worked with John Noble to nail down what was basically an impersonation of an in absentia Leonard Nimoy.
I was not excited when that script came out. I was fearful. So what do you do? You call the people that are much better than you and say, “Help!” [Laughs] John had worked with Leonard, plus I was so, so nervous, I wanted to make sure that when I went to set to do it for the first time there was at least one person that I could look at who I had done it with before and trusted. It offered an element of comfort.
TVLINE | Did you ever get a note from Mr. Nimoy?
I did! I got an email saying, “I’ve been hearing good things about your impersonation of me.” I wrote back, “Oh gosh, I’m so sorry. Why they didn’t give it to Josh [Jackson] or John, I don’t know.” He was so darling, he wrote back, “It wouldn’t have been as charming.”
TVLINE | Would seeing John receive an Emmy nomination be as satisfying as getting your own?
Oh, I can’t believe that he hasn’t [been nominated] yet. I have the luxury of watching him work, and I learn a lot.
TVLINE | We saw Mary McDonnell do gangbusters work on Battlestar Galactica, which in many ways was “The West Wing in space.” Yet actors in genre shows have trouble getting recognized at Emmy time. Why do you think that is?
I’m loath to kind of comment on that, but I think that people think that serious acting needs to be within a serious sort of story.
TVLINE | Would that influence your Emmy reel, if you get to compile one? Might you cherry-pick straighter drama moments?
That’s an interesting thing, because performance is so much about taste. I don’t ever sit down and ask people, “What’s your favorite scene of mine?” I know the ones that I’m proud of, but people like different things…
TVLINE | Which scenes are you proud of?
There were two scenes from when Olivia came back [from the other universe] and finds out that Peter was sleeping with Bolivia. One [has] her on her own where she takes all of her clothes out of the wardrobe and puts them in the laundry. [Watch that clip here.] And there’s another where she says to Peter, “I can’t believe that you didn’t know it was me.” The reason I love those scenes is because it’s really easy to be great in your own bedroom [rehearsing], but when you get on set you have so many different obstacles. The scene with Peter and me outside was done at like 1:30 in the morning, in the middle of town, so we had piles of drunk people screaming up and down the street, and massive fire engines and trucks coming through…. We’re doing this quiet scene where I have to cry and we’re on the clock, but that’s what TV teaches you -– to just go with it very quickly.
TVLINE | I remember and loved that scene (watch it here), because it was coming from this place of, “Nobody wants to feel replaceable.”
And nobody wants to believe that they’re just their skin. You want to believe that people see something else inside you. But essentially that’s what she was being told at that point. Those scripts were wonderfully written.
TVLINE | Who inspires you? Is there an actress who, whenever she has a new project come out, you are so there?
I just adore Kate Winslet. I love her because you’re never aware of all the stuff that’s going into her characterization, and yet she completely transforms. She also has this incandescent warmth to her, and that’s a quality that is hers. She’s approachable and damn believable.
TVLINE | You recently told me that if Fringe ever introduced a third universe, you’d want that Olivia to be a Southern gal….
Yeah, someone really from Jacksonville.
TVLINE | So, not someone Australian?
Australian would be fun, but I don’t know if they’d ever let me do that. But I’d love to play a real Aussie chick! I pitched that once; I wanted to play the teacher in the episode where we go back and find out Olivia and Peter’s [childhood] story. I nearly got the guys to do it, but they thought it might be too confusing. So I let that go!
After three seasons, the sci-fi cult show “Fringe” has finally received some awards recognition. On Monday, the Broadcast Television Journalists Associationannounced the contenders for its inaugural Critics’ Choice Television Awards and “Fringe” numbered three nominations.
The show vies for Best Drama Series against perennial awards favorites “Dexter,” “The Good Wife” and “Mad Men” as well as the final season of “Friday Night Lights,” the second season of “Justified” and newcomers “Boardwalk Empire,” “Game of Thrones,” “The Killing” and “The Walking Dead.”
“Fringe” leading lady Anna Torv contends for Best Drama Actress against previous Emmy nominees Connie Britton (“Friday Night Lights”), Julianna Margulies (“The Good Wife”) and Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men”), Golden Globe champ Katey Sagal (“Sons of Anarchy”) and Mireille Enos (“The Killing”).
And “Fringe” featured player John Noble rounds out the Drama Supporting Actor roster with previous Emmy nominees Alan Cumming (“The Good Wife”) and John Slattery (“Mad Men”) and Walton Goggins (“Justified”), Shawn Hatosy (“Southland”) and Michael Pitt (“Boardwalk Empire”).
“Fringe” found its feet this year. Indeed, BTJA member Matt Roush (TV Guide) proclaimed that the third season premiere “took top honors as the Show of the Night. It’s that good.” Fans of the show have launched a Facebook campaign on behalf of the series andits stars. And both Anna Torv and John Noble revealed to Gold Derby their awards hopes for the show.
The Critics’ Choice TV Awards will be handed out at the Beverly Hilton on June 20, with VH1.com streaming the ceremony hosted by Cat Deely (“So You Think You Can Dance”). ReelzChannel will air an edited version of the kudocast on June 22 at 8 p.m. ET. Emmy nominating ballots are due on June 24